Largest crowd in USL play since August 2015 attends FCC's first ever regular season home match.
CINCINNATI, OHIO – A pair of goals from Sean Okoli and Austin Berry proved to be the difference as FC Cincinnati won its inaugural home opener, 2-1 over the Charlotte Independence, in front of a record crowd, Saturday at Nippert Stadium.
Despite a kickoff temperature of 39 degrees, fans came out in force to support the city’s newest professional franchise with an announced crowd of 14,658. Saturday’s crowd is the largest United Soccer League attendance since August 28, 2015 when Real Monarchs SLC drew 13,979 to Rio Tinto Stadium.
“What an incredible feeling it was to be a part of tonight,” said FCC head coach John Harkes. “The players felt the energy on the field. It’s not a cliché when they say it helps to have a 12th man on the field (referring to the fans enthusiasm). Charlotte is a strong side and it took great effort to make tonight happen.”
FCC got on the board early in the first half with Okoli’s goal in the fifth minute. After a poor clearance by Charlotte, Corben Bone collected the ball, took a touch toward goal and crossed the ball inside the box to Okoli. Okoli flicked the ball to himself and finished the score with a splendid aerobatic side kick, smashing the ball past Charlotte goalkeeper Cody Mizzell and into the back of the net.
“The first goal at Nippert is very special to me, especially with the strong energy from the fans,” said Okoli.
FCC continued to put pressure on the Independence defense, controlling the possession in the offensive half, but Charlotte was able to defend. FCC took the 1-0 lead into the half.
Berry’s goal came in the 52nd minute after more offensive pressure from the home side. Jimmy McLaughlin found space and drove a left-footed ball inside the box. It was the Cincinnati native, Berry who found the ball, sending his diving header soaring into the back of the net to give FCC a 2-0 lead.
“Being from here, scoring that goal was very special for me, but more so for the fans,” said Berry. “We’ve looked forward to this game for awhile to reward the fans for their patience and support.”
However, the celebration was short lived, as Charlotte pulled one back just a minute later. A corner from the Independence’s Jorge Herrera found Caleb Calvert rising above the FCC defense and sending a close-range header, which was saved brilliantly by Mitch Hildebrandt, but the ricochet fell to David Estrada who fired it home to cut the deficit to one.
An energized Charlotte side was inspired to continue for an equalizer, but the FCC defense was equal to the task, turning away eight second half shots including four corner kicks.
Hildebrandt picked up six saves in the win, while his Charlotte counterpart Cody Mizzell made nine saves in the loss. FCC held a 19-14 advantage on shots and a 12-6 edge on corner kicks.
FCC returns to the pitch next Saturday, April 16 at Nippert Stadium against rival Louisville City FC. It is the first match in the two game series for the River City Cup, with kickoff coming at 7pm EST.